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Vol. 50 no. 3: Winter 2016–17

George Romney and Ozias Humphry as Collectors of William Blake’s Illuminated Printing

  • Morton D. Paley
17 January 2017
17 Jan. 2017


The importance of the artists George Romney and Ozias Humphry as collectors of William Blake in the mid-1790s has yet to be fully described and evaluated. Although Romney had told their mutual friend John Flaxman that Blake’s historical drawings “rank with those of Ml. Angelo,” his early acquisition of at least five (or four if the Songs are counted as one book) illuminated books was unknown until 1989. Humphry’s role as a Blake collector has long been known, but most scholarly attention has been on his later relations with Blake, especially his obtaining for Blake the commission for one of the Last Judgment drawings (National Trust, Petworth) and eliciting a detailed written description of it in 1808, rather than on his importance to Blake as a client earlier. Humphry commissioned two sets of images, mostly from illuminated books: the eight folio-sized prints known as A Large Book of Designs copy A, and A Small Book of Designs copy A (comprising twenty-three prints); he also purchased America copy H, Europe copy D, and copy H of Songs. Romney acquired America copy A, The [FirstBook of Urizen copy B, Visions of the Daughters of Albion copy F, Songs copy A, and a copy of Europe that has been identified as A. Taken together, the two artists’ purchases compose a substantial portion of Blake’s known sales of illuminated books and associated material in the period from his initial prospectus “To the Public” (E 692-93), dated 10 October 1793, to 1796.